OVERBROOK—The 83-year legacy of the O’Bryhim family grocers in Overbrook will come to a close next week, when Cliff O’Bryhim transfers ownership of O’Bryhim’s Thriftway to Jim O’Neil, of Horton.
“Sometimes the best time to sell is when there’s a buyer,” O’Bryhim said. “I thought of waiting down the road, and not having a buyer. After 83 years and four generations, I’d hate to leave Overbrook without a grocery store.”
O’Neil and O’Bryhim have discussed the sale of the store for several years, prior to O’Neil’s purchase of the Carbondale Thriftway from Skip Kleier in December 2013.
“It’s a good fit,” O’Bryhim said. “The stores are close enough together. When Mr. Kleier was still in business, we worked a lot of pallet deals together. It was good for both of us.”
When Kleier sold, O’Bryhim saw the writing on the wall.
“It was one more straw on the camel’s back,” O’Bryhim said. “To earn a little bit of money, you have to be so many things. You can just work so many weekends.”
O’Bryhim felt selling was one of the best ways to ensure the Overbrook community continued to have a grocery store for many years.
“The are so few stores,” he said. “You look at the towns in Osage County that don’t have a grocery store. It’s sad.”
O’Neil conducted interviews this week, and plans to hire most of the existing employees. O’Neil will take full ownership on Jan. 5. O’Bryhim will put in his final day on Jan. 4, and hopes he’ll be able to move on to a position with a regular work week.
“It would be nice,” he said. “I work every Saturday and Sunday. I’ve done it so long that it’s really not even an issue for me.”
He sees it as a good time to jump into a new field.
“I have a degree in marketing, economics and accounting,” O’Bryhim said. “I’m not ready to retire, even if I could afford to. I just want to find something I enjoy doing, that’s productive.
“I’m still reasonably healthy, and hopefully still of healthy mind and body,” O’Bryhim said. “I think it’s time.”
O’Bryhim’s Thriftway represents a family history in providing food to Overbrook residents, spanning for generations in three centuries.
“My great grandfather had come off the farm in 1890 and ran a creamery that sold groceries,” O’Bryhim said. “He did that for about five years and then went back to farming.”
Walden O’Bryhim’s son, Cliff, went on to manage the Farmers Union, and later purchased the business in 1932.
His son, Bernard “Scoot” O’Bryhim, took over the business and moved it to its current location on the south end of Main Street in 1968.
“Anybody that called him Bernard, we knew they didn’t really know him,” O’Bryhim said of his father.
Clifford began his lifelong career in the grocery business as a 4-year-old, working for his father in entry-level pest control – swatting flies.
“I was swatting them for a penny a fly,” O’Bryhim said.
He graduated from Baker University in 1978. He spent two years working elsewhere before returning to home.
“I told my dad I’d help him for the summer, and I never left,” O’Bryhim said.
Cliff’s two sons were raised in the business, but have since pointed in other directions.
“They’re too smart to go into the grocery business,” O’Bryhim joked.
His son, Brad, has a master’s degree in hospital administration, and works for Cerner in Kansas City.
“He’s very happy with them,” O’Bryhim said.
His other son, Chad, is assisting with the transition.
“He’s been helping me,” O’Bryhim said. “He was working in Phoenix and came back to help me run the store. He’s helping me close down, but he’ll be taking a job in Lawrence very soon.”
O’Bryhim is exceedingly grateful for the support Overbrook has given him through the years.
“We’ve been part of the community for many years,” O’Bryhim said. “I’m very appreciative of the customers. I’ve had customers who shopped loyally for four generations.
“I feel very, very privileged,” he said. “Overbrook has been very good to the O’Bryhim family.”
O’Bryhim Family Day
The community will recognize the O’Bryhim family’s contribution to the city of Overbrook during a celebration 6 p.m. Jan. 10 in the Overbrook Library Community Room.
The event, hosted by the Overbrook Rotary Club, will be “a night of food, fun, music and celebration,” honoring the O’Bryhim family’s years of grocery service.
The event will include a grand prize drawing for the Rotary Club’s Valentine’s Weekend in Branson contest, as well as chili and dessert, featuring O’Bryhim’s secret recipe.
O’Bryhim found humor in cooking for the party in his honor.
“For years, I worked with the junior youth in our church,” he said. “I went from there to making it for Rotary. I’ve made up to six big roasters, feeding 300 to 400 people. Most of it is chili for the masses.”
O’Bryhim, who is a certified Master Food Volunteer through Kansas State University’s Extension program, prefers whipping up his signature batch, which he’s entered into a few competitions.
“I’ve done fairly well,” he said.
The event will also feature a performance from the Santa Fe Trail High School Band, and will raise funds for the Rotary Club.
O’Bryhim feels one of the strongest testimonies to the store’s success has been the length of service from its employees, including Leora Woodruff, who worked at the store most of her life.
“She was one of the first employees my grandfather hired,” O’Bryhim said. “She worked on and off with us until a week before she passed away at 90.”
She died in 2010.
“Her daughter works for me now,” O’Bryhim said.
He recalled many other long time employees.
“My dad hired Lyla Fox in the 70s,” he said. “She retired five years ago, and still works for me part time. My dad actually retired in 1985, and I still have two or three employees he was part of hiring that are working here.
“My manager, Todd Craig, started working for me as a high school freshman,” O’Bryhim said. “He worked through high school and college. He worked in Topeka for a while and came back. He’s been back with me probably 10 years.
“I would bet that 60 percent of the people in Overbrook, if someone in their family didn’t work for me, a close relative did, or for my dad or my grandpa,” O’Bryhim said.
In addition to employing many members of the community, the store also serves as an impromptu social gathering place for almost anyone.
“It is kind of a social club,” O’Bryhim said. “I’ve seen people stand in the aisle and talk for two hours.”
He has always appreciated those who stop in to visit.
“That’s what I’ll probably miss the most,” O’Bryhim said. “You’re here so many hours – people also pop in and say hi, or give me a hug.”